When Should You Hire a Copyeditor?

 In Editing

Or: How to not waste your time and money.

You wrote a novel! Maybe it’s the next great American novel, maybe it’s your first foray into the writing world, maybe it’s your first contemporary YA, or maybe it’s the beginning of a seven-part generational saga.

First of all, cool! Great job! Writing is hard, and it’s worth celebrating when you’ve done it. And if writing is easy for you, then editing might be hard. Or maybe carving out the time to do the writing and editing has been tough. No matter your process, you deserve to celebrate! Here is some cake.

A picture of an over-decorated cake.

That was fun.

And now?

Text: What is Next?

What Is Next?

My guess is that if you are reading this particular article, you are thinking about putting your writing in front of other people. Maybe it’s time to self-publish. Or find an agent who’s going to find you the perfect editor for your soon-to-be-great American novel.

Whatever the method, you are sending your words out in the world! For the purposes of this article, we’re going to call that publishing.

Hey, so here’s an important question. Are you done mucking around with stuff? I ask because whether or not you are done mucking about with your words determines what kind of editing you want.

If you are still working through your words and plan to change them substantially before they are done, you aren’t ready for coypediting. This might mean you still want to go back through what you’ve written and move paragraphs, change concepts, or add or subtract scenes or characters. If that’s the case for your document, you are not ready for copyediting.

Text: Ask Yourself One Question.

Ask Yourself One Question.

Ask yourself one question: Am I done changing things? If the answer is yes, then you are ready for copyediting.

What will copyediting do for you? First and foremost, your copyeditor will find 95–100% of the errors in your manuscript. Do you have errors in your manuscript? Yes, you do. I’m here to tell you that errors are present. Even if you are the most meticulous person who knows every grammar rule, there are errors in what you’ve written.

This is no reflection of your skills, it’s because you are a terrible editor of your own work. Or, you might be an okay one, but you aren’t the best choice to be the person who finds errors. You are too close to what you’ve written. You need a professional!

Text: What Copyeditors Do.

What Copyeditors Do.

And that’s where the copyeditor comes in. They are going to go through the words you’ve written with a fine-toothed comb. A good copyeditor examines every comma, thinks about what each word in each sentence is doing. When they find errors, they fix them, and they make sure your work keeps to a style. Copyeditors use style guides like the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, and they use any company or individual style guides authors may have developed.

Coypeditors also keep an eye on the details of your story. When I copyedit novels, I keep track of character traits, time line, any world building, and point of view. Those are tracked in a style sheet where I also keep track of how words are stylized and all sorts of things to do with punctuation, acronyms and the like.

But I Just Need a Light Proofread.

But I Just Need a Light Proofread.

I have enough experience on hiring platforms to know that a lot of writers think they need a light proofread and they will be fine. This is rarely the case. Ask yourself, “Have I paid someone to copyedit my writing?” If you answered in the negative, then you aren’t ready for proofreading. Proofreading is the final step before you publish. It’s to catch the small errors that might still linger or to grab any errors introduced in the final editing stages.

Text: Order of Operations.

Order of Operations.

Are you self-publishing? Here’s a list of what’s next if you are publishing your own stuff.

  • Write your novel.
  • Revise.
  • Revise again.
  • Repeat the above step more than a few times.
  • Decide that even though you’ve revised, it’s still not quite right.
  • Hire an editor (developmental, substantive, content, line).
  • Incorporate all those suggestions and changes from your editor.
  • Notice that this is a long process.
  • Hire a copyeditor.
  • Be amazed at the amount of edits your copyeditor found.
  • Incorporate those changes.
  • Hire a proofreader.
  • Make those final proofreading changes.
  • Marvel at all that you have accomplished.
  • Is it time to publish? Not yet.
  • Now it’s time for book design. And that is a topic for a different writer.

Are you looking for an agent? Here’s your list of what’s next.

  • Write your novel.
  • Revise.
  • Revise again.
  • Repeat the above step more than a few times.
  • Get all your agent-seeking ducks in a row (query letter, synopsis, comps, agents who represent your genre).
  • Send out a batch of query letters.
  • Wait (at least three months, longer if the agent has specified).
  • If you don’t get a good response, take another look at your manuscript.
  • Get back on the revision train.
  • Or
  • Hire an editor (developmental or substantive) to help you make changes.
  • Query again.

Just remember: copyediting is best started after all the other editing is done.

Good luck!

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